Susan Granger’s review of “Isle of Dogs” (Fox Searchlight Pictures/Indian Paintbrush)
From the fertile imagination of filmmaker Wes Anderson (“Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Life Aquatic,” “The Darjeeling Limited”) comes this unique, stop-motion animated tale of a youngster looking for his lost companion, featuring the distinctive voices of Anderson’s regular repertory company.
Set in the Japanese Archipelago in the near future, this dystopian fable, narrated by Courtney B. Vance, revolves around Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), whose bodyguard dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), is banished when Megasaki City’s cat-loving, dog-despising Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) decrees that, following an outbreak of a type of flu known as Snout Fever, all canines must be exiled to an island previously used for trash disposal.
Hijacking a small aircraft, intrepid, 12 year-old Atari, the adopted nephew of corrupt Mayor Kobayashi, crash-lands on Trash Island’s bleak wasteland, determined to rescue his beloved Spots. Instead, he runs into a bickering pack of banished pets.
There’s Boss (Bill Murray), Rex (Edward Norton), Duke (Jeff Goldblum) and King (Bob Balaban), along with Chief (Bryan Cranston), a gruff, battle-hardened stray; a silky former show dog, Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson); and a TV-loving, psychic pug (Tilda Swinton).
The unconventional, original sci-fi screenplay is by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura, who were obviously inspired by the stylistic films of Hayao Miyazaki and Akira Kurosawa.
With the dogs speaking English and the people speaking Japanese, it’s exquisitely depicted in visual detail by the inventive ‘puppet’ artists at Twentieth Century Fox Animation with evocative music by Alexandre Desplat.
Unfortunately, the running joke involving a translator (Frances McDormand) grows tedious, as does a conspiracy subplot, encompassing a feisty foreign exchange student, Tracy (Greta Gerwig), while Yoko Ono’s ‘scientist’ adds nothing and is ultimately distracting.
FYI: It’s the longest stop-motion film ever, beating out “Coraline” by two minutes.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 of 10, “Isle of Dogs” is an admirably idiosyncratic 8 – thanks to its timely, politically provocative, fascistic undertones.